Selfish vs. Selfless

We have a funny idea about what makes someone selfless. Here's what I was taught:

Selfless is...

  • Going out of your way to help anyone who asks you for help.
  • Doing something you hate because it's the most responsible course of action.
  • Being with friends or family (even if they're toxic and abusive) because it's the polite/right thing to do.
  • Compromising (or neglecting) your own health/happiness/well-being in order to lift someone else up.

And it's true. That's quite selfless. There's certainly very little "self" present in these actions. When you put another's needs before your own you're grasping the holy grail of being a good person.

But here's the other side of that. Watching the selflessness of key people in my life showed me not an increase in joy and wellbeing, but instead...emotional and physical fatigue, resentment, and a perpetuation of toxic patterns.

I've noticed that selfless people are, by and large, unhappy. And putting themselves out for the benefit of anyone and everyone very rarely resulted in the happiness of the receiving party, either.

This is my plea: Stop being so selfless.

I don't mean that you shouldn't help other people. Only, if it would hurt you (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) to help someone else, don't do that. That means there's someone else out there who's better equipped to help them. And if you really want to be of assistance? You'll empower them to find a good fit, other resources, or encourage them to use their own tools.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: You can't help the poor by being poor. 

Making yourself miserable, especially in the name of being selfless, only begets more misery.

Be kind. Be charitable. Be a resource. And remember that this is a big world and you're not the only person in it. You don't have to - nor can you - save everyone. (You may find this article helpful if you struggle with that.)

The best thing you can do is, honestly, be a bit more selfish with your time and energy. If you're killing yourself to bend over backwards, then your family, friends, children, and strangers aren't getting the best of you. That's what the world needs more than anything else - the best you, and a model for how to achieve that for themselves.